The Penny Dreadfuls burst on to the Fringe in 2006 with their riotous mock Victorian melodrama, Aeneas Faversham. Since then they’ve brought their dandy characters back twice more - to considerable acclaim - and been hard at work building a fanbase with a heavy touring schedule and shows on Radio 4, carving out a reputation as one of the most exciting comedy troupes around. Now they’re back with a new show and their loyal fans are out in force, packing out one of the larger portakabins in the Pleasance Courtyard but Never Man doesn’t live up to its promise.
In a move away from comic Victoriana, the action, such as it is, takes place on the fantastical Beef Island where an evil, enigmatic Bond-style villain by the name of Dr Lovable is plotting world domination by means of processed meat. Also roaming the mystical, Prisoner-esque isle are an undercover policeman with a score to settle, a mad scientist with a lab full of viruses and a 6ft 7in eight-and-three-quarter year old schoolboy with unfeasible powers of strength. The bizarre narrative does eventually build a kind of momentum but there’s too much surreal silliness and daft accents here and not enough concentration on real jokes.
All three - Thom Tuck, the small one, Humphrey Ker, the tall one and David Reed, the Northern one - have good physical skills and they make for a memorably mismatched trio. It would be good to see their talents showcased in a more tightly crafted show. Ones to watch, then, just not this year.
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